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Twice in 2010, the Humane Society of the United States snuck undercover, camera-toting investigators into factory-scale egg facilities, and both times they revealed savage animal-welfare and public health abuses: everything from eggs exposed to rotting hen carcasses on the way to the carton, to "trapped birds unable to reach food and water."

Meanwhile, the industry put a bunch of egg on its own face by releasing a cool half-billion salmonella-tainted eggs. They turned out to have emerged from the fetid factories of a shadowy magnate named Jack Decoster with a decades-long history of violations. Congressional investigators found that the Decoster operation's own testing had detected salmonella on its conveyor belts no fewer than 73 times before the outbreak, and did nothing to remedy the situation.

Perhaps chastened by these revelations, the industry is now playing ball with its most prominent critic. In what could prove to be an historic deal, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers have joined forces to push for federal legislation that would transform industrial egg production. According to their joint press release, the proposed legislation would be the "first federal law addressing the treatment of animals on farms." Among other things, it would nearly double the amount of space allotted each hen, making conditions less cramped and thus more humane and hygienic; and provide the birds "with environments that will allow them to express natural behaviors, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas."

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